Friday, January 26, 2007

The O'Loan Report

In the heat of partisan Northern Ireland politics I wanted to take time to form an impartial view of the Police Ombudsman's report on RUC collusion with loyalist terrorists in North Belfast.
Not easy. Nearly all Unionist politicians are decrying it because of sparseness of supporting factual evidence, nearly all Nationalist politicians are aghast and every Republican's crying victim. However, my politics - like most of my life - have never fitted neatly into anyone else's box. I like to be free to form whatever opinion my conscience suggests, based on Biblical Christian morals and the belief that everyone deserves respect and a decent life.
Nuala O'Loan's report is 165 pages long, and the best reading is after the Executive Summary. For me, there are two damning revelations: that RUC and Special Branch officers deliberately failed on many occasions (including 10 murders) to prosecute a major North Belfast terrorist and his cronies because they were informers, and that many retired senior police officers refused to cooperate with the ombudsman's investigation.
For as long as I can remember, the Protestant community in Northern Ireland has trusted the police force implicitly as being even-handed and fair. We've put Nationalist and Republican allegations of impropriety down to political opportunism and, to be truthful, dishonesty because our experience of the RUC was almost always different. The report suggests that such trust was misplaced. If its conclusions are correct, Protestants must now call that trust into question - as a matter of principle, but also because most of the ten murder victims were from the Unionist community.
For the same reason Nationalists and, in particular, Republicans must also question their inherited view that the RUC was sectarian. What sectarian organisation suffers the murder of its own people?
Clearly, major elements of the RUC and Special Branch operated inefficiently, negligently and to their own agenda regardless of the true needs and requirements of the people. They considered themselves above the law, and by any moral, democratic or legal standards this was scandalous.
The report tables no specific evidence to support its conclusions, and this is what Unionists are moaning about. The ombudsman says the evidence cannot be allowed to enter the public domain as that could prejudice future criminal trials. There's an obvious answer: start the trials immediately. Try "Informant 1" & co. for murder, torture, extortion and drug-dealing, and try the individual police officers for perverting the course of justice. For those still in service, subject them to full internal disciplinary proceedings as well.
As a member of the Protestant community in Fermanagh, though, I do have to swallow hard when I see Martin McGuinness, the (ex-) IRA leader, pontificating about human rights, but the RUC should have been whiter than white and it wasn't.
Hugh Orde and the UK government are quick to highlight the PSNI reforms, but I want to see full implementation of Chris Patten's proposals. I also want to see the Sinn Féin ard fheis on Sunday come down strongly in favour of full commitment to policing and justice, including "policing the police" via the local policing boards. If we'd had full community accountability in the 90's, including the able involvement Sinn Féin's highly politicised members are able to provide, this collusion may well not have happened.


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